Interning at a Small Company vs a Big Company

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When seeking out an internship, you’ll have a number of options from which to choose. You can work at a start-up, a mid-sized company, or a large firm. Regardless of the size of the organization, you’re likely to gain the kind of hands-on experience that you can list on a resume to attract the attention of prospective employers. 

While the type of experience and opportunities available may vary according to the size of the company—interning for a large company can offer benefits that a smaller company does not and vice versa—you don’t necessarily need to choose one over another. Depending on where you are in your academic career, you can intern for a larger company during one term and then land an internship with a smaller company the next. 

Having both of these opportunities can balance out your resume and give you a better feel for the size and type of company you’d like to work for after college. Here’s a rundown of the benefits of interning at various size companies.

Working for a Larger Company

Perhaps the biggest benefit of working for a larger company is clout you’ll get from being able to list a larger brand-name company internship on your resume. When hiring managers scan resumes, prominent company names stand out. Big names matter when it comes to setting yourself apart from the competition, even more so in certain fields such as law and marketing. If you’ve interned at a company like Disney, for instance, your resume will carry a lot more weight than if you worked for a boutique firm.

Larger companies typically have greater resources than smaller firms, which means you’ll likely have all the tools and information you need to be successful. Another advantage of working for a larger company is that established firms are likely to have already streamlined their internship policies and processes, which means your role, responsibilities, and expectations will be clear when you start, as will the reporting structure. There is also a greater chance of being exposed to seasoned professionals who can share their real-world knowledge and expertise with aspiring interns.

A few potential downsides of working for a larger company is that there may be less flexibility to take charge and showcase initiative, the tasks may also seem more tedious and less interesting. The rules may be more rigid, meaning that there are more hurdles to jump when it comes to getting your job done.

Working for a Smaller Company

Working for a smaller company, on the other hand, you might also have more chances to offer input, to be creative, and to make greater contributions, resulting in gaining more practical hands-on experience. Although you may have a more difficult time finding big-name mentors and have less access to industry veterans, when you intern with smaller and mid-sized companies, you will probably be able to forge stronger relationships with the people you work with because there are fewer of them and fewer interns. 

You may also have more real opportunities to help others on various projects. The typical tasks you'll perform as an intern at a smaller company—administrative work, research, taking notes, and observing meetings—aren’t necessarily different from the work you would do at large companies. However, you may have more opportunities to take on more responsibility and a wider variety of tasks.

If you are considering an internship with a company that does interesting things, but no one has heard of it, that’s okay. Do the internship, make a lasting impression, do your best to get involved in meaningful work, network, and help with as many different tasks as possible.

The Environment

Interning for a larger company might feel like a generic, impersonal experience in some ways, as opposed to working at smaller companies, which typically have a much easier time creating a personal feel. Because the staff won't be as large, you can truly bond and get to know your work colleagues.

In smaller companies, you'll likely have access to employees who are fairly high up in the company, which can expose you to more interesting work and more influential contacts. Conversely, interns at larger companies may find themselves making copies and grabbing coffee for lower-level employees.